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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, February 11, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

He was like a cock who thought the sun had risen to hear him crow. - George Eliot

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Dubai Tour final team reports

Here's what winner Elia Viviani's Quick-Step team had to say:

Elia Viviani reigned supreme on the fifth and final stage of the Dubai Tour, netting Quick-Step Floors' fourth straight GC triumph at the Middle East race, which has served the team well since 2015, the year of our first victory. For the impressive Viviani, it was the second overall win of his career, nearly five years after coming out on top in the Tour of Elk Grove, a short stage race in the United States.

The Italian, whose previous best overall result at the Dubai Tour was a fifth place, went into the final day of the event with a two-second buffer over Magnus Cort (Astana) in the rankings, after putting in a brave fight on the Hatta Dam climb. Protected by the same infallible Quick-Step Floors six-man squad that marshalled the peloton since the opening stage, Elia didn't need to worry when four riders escaped and established a 4:30-gap, as his teammates took it to the front and cut the deficit, before bringing the attackers back with ten kilometers to go.

As expected, other teams got in the mix to set up the final bunch gallop of the Dubai Tour, and the nervousness that ensued led to a crash on the last right hand corner of the stage, taking several riders to the ground, while others found themselves blocked behind the pile-up.

That incident also meant Viviani had to put in quite the effort to close the gap to the ones in the front, which he did thanks to the help of an impeccable Fabio Sabatini – who once again proved why he is one of the best lead-out men in the business – before opening the sprint with 100 meters remaining and overhauling Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) and Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) for his third victory of the season, one which landed him also the beautiful "Circle of Stars" trophy.

Minutes after crossing the line, an ecstatic Elia made an analysis of the chaotic, crash-marred finale: "This morning I tried to stay relaxed, but now I must admit that I was very nervous, because my margin in the general classification was a slender one. Our tactic was to let join the break only riders who weren't posing a danger in the overall, so we don't have to pull all day long, because I needed all my six teammates for the closing part of the stage. In the final kilometer, Saba did an outstanding job, avoiding the crash, then closing the gap and leading me out. All I had to do was patiently wait, because we had a headwind, and it was important to leave it as late as possible."

Elia Viviani

Elia Viviani winning the final stage

Viviani is one of the seven riders to have joined Quick-Step Floors before the start of 2018, and now, just one month into his season, he boasts four victories, a remarkable amount after three races with the squad, which he credited as the main reason for his superb results since the beginning of the year.

"I came to this team in order to become one of the best sprinters in the world, and 90% of what I have achieved here in Dubai is Quick-Step Floors' merit. The boys are extraordinary, they rallied around me and offered their huge support, while Brian Holm laid out a perfect tactic. The goal was to win the GC, but at the same time we decided to take it day by day and see what happens. Two stage wins and the general classification is a fantastic way to close out the week. I'm very happy with how I started the season and the good form I have, it gives me even more confidence for my future races", concluded the Italian, who wrapped up the Dubai Tour also with the red jersey – for the most consistent rider in the points standings – in the bag.

And BMC sent me this final Dubai Tour report:

10 February, 2018, Dubai (UAE): The fifth and final stage of the Dubai Tour saw the peloton racing through the heart of the city with Jempy Drucker sprinting to fourth on the line, Nathan Van Hooydonck finishing as BMC Racing Team's top-placed rider in fourth overall, and the team winning the Team Classification.

The battle to form the day's breakaway began as soon as the race hit KM 0, with a number of attacks, including moves from Van Hooydonck and Loïc Vliegen, flying off the front of the bunch. However, it took just over 20km, of the 132km course, for the action to settle down, allowing a four-rider group the chance to go clear. 

After reaching a maximum of almost five minutes, the advantage of the breakaway began to fall heading into the second half of the stage with the peloton pulling the leaders back to inside two minutes with 30km to go, as the race began to gear up for a fast and furious grandstand finale.

As the last remaining rider from the day's breakaway was being pulled back approaching the final 10km of the day, two riders tried their luck at the front of the race. However, the sprinters were not going to be denied their chance to go for the day's honors and soon a fierce battle for position began with BMC Racing Team moving up to the front of the bunch before the peloton headed under the flamme rouge at full speed.

A crash on the corner before the finishing straight saw riders spread out all across the road as the final sprint was launched. Drucker was well-positioned and showed his strength by powering towards the line before eventually crossing in fourth place behind the stage winner, and overall race leader, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors).

Despite being caught behind the late crash, Van Hooydonck crossed the line safely to secure fourth overall on the General Classification, 17 seconds behind Viviani. While, Vliegen and Drucker also finished inside the top ten, securing fifth and eighth place respectively and helping to seal victory for BMC Racing Team in the Team Classification after a solid week of racing from all seven riders.

Quotes From the Finish Line

Jempy Drucker:
"I knew the finish from last year, so I knew the final corner, and I could tell from the speed that we were entering it that there could be a crash. So, I decided to stay on the inside and in the end, I found myself in fourth positon. I launched my sprint with 200m to go but, there was a slight headwind, and in the end, three other guys were able to pass me."

"This has been a good first week of racing for me. It is always good to get into the race rhythm, and my shape seems good heading to Oman. We will have different priorities there, and the parcours is more hilly, but I think for me that will be a good way to fine-tune ahead of the next part of the season."

Nathan Van Hooydonck:
"There was a crash in the last corner, and I got caught behind that which was a bit of a shame. However, overall at this race, I have been feeling good, and I think that I have been able to show that my form is good for this early part of the season. There are a lot of positives to take away from this race, and I was happy to finish fourth overall. I think it is a good indication of how the rest of the season will go. Now, I am looking forward to heading to Oman and working for the team."

Loïc Vliegen:
"I am a bit disappointed about the crash as I was just behind it and I had to put my feet on the ground to avoid it. But, for me, the most important thing at this race was that I showed that I am in a good condition. There is still room for improvement, but I think it has been a good start to the year and I can only build on my performance from here."

EF Education First-Drapac reports on Colombia Oro Y Paz race:

Rigoberto Uran won an all-Colombian showdown on the steep climb to Salento to deliver the first victory of the season for #PinkArgyle on Saturday. The Tour de France runner-up out-sprinted compatriots Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Egan Bernal (Team Sky) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) in the Colombia Oro y Paz stage five uphill finish.

Rigoberto Uran

Rigoberto Uran wins the stage

“The team did a great job today from the beginning of the race,” said Uran. “We knew that I could do a good finish. Dani was strong on the last climb, but all the guys did important work that helped me take a very nice stage win.

“Winning in Colombia gives me great joy,” Uran added. “I have not done a proper race here in 11 years. To see so many people at the starts and the finishes fills me with deep appreciation for the fans and the sport.”

Eleven riders formed the early breakaway. The peloton kept the escape on a short leash, limiting the gap to no more than two minutes throughout the stage. “Julian [Cardona], Alex [Howes] and Nate [Brown] were active to try to be in the break but only if the break was big,” explained Garate. “It took a long time for the break to go, and there were no big names in the move. From that moment, we knew the race was in the bunch.”

Having studied the GPX tracks closely, Garate prepared a race strategy that focused on a tricky and twisty section of the course that came eight kilometers before the finish line. “I saw a video from Vuelta Colombia and knew this would be the most critical point,” said Garate. “We raced for first there. Hugh [Carthy] did a little bit of a lead-out on top with help from Nate. In the downhill, it split. We prepared this one strategy, and it was perfect."

New signing Dani Martinez played the role of last lieutenant flawlessly. “Everything I ask of Dani, he does,” said Garate. “He has a really good condition at the moment. I asked him to enjoy his opportunity today. I told him that everyone was going to look at Rigo, and he needed to close the gaps, but he could also go on the offensive. He did, and it’s what made the difference for Rigo on the climb.

“Dani is having a really good race with us here,” Garate added. “He showed already last year at the end of the season what he was capable of, but he’s confirming it with us.”

Martinez fell off the pace shortly before the last kilometre, leaving Uran with Quintana, Henao and Bernal. “It was a very short final climb but very explosive,” said Uran. “I knew the finish, and I knew that it was very narrow. I was ready for it. It was to my advantage that the pace was so high. Dani did a phenomenal job to position me, and fortunately I was able to finish off his work.”

The inaugural edition of Colombia Oro y Paz will come to a close on Sunday with the race’s only true summit finish. The final ascent in Manizales is just shy of 20 kilometers and reaches 2,220 meters.

The top three on general classification will start the queen stage separated by only four seconds. Uran trails Quintana, who assumed the race lead on Saturday from teammate Julian Alaphilippe, by three seconds. Henao sits one second further afield at four seconds. Bonus seconds could come into play to determine the overall winner with three intermediate sprints offering 3-2-1 seconds and 10-6-4 seconds up for grabs on the finish line.

“The summit finish tomorrow will be quite hard, but I have a strong team that is ready to fight for the win,” said Uran. “The level here at this race is very high. It will be an interesting race.”

Despite all Uran has accomplished in his 12-year career, he has yet to take a general classification win. His most well-known results include second overall at the 2017 Tour de France and twice second overall at the Giro d’Italia (2013, 2014). EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale is committed to offering Uran the best possible opportunity to take his first stage race victory on Sunday.  

“For us, it’s interesting that we have yet to see a break arrive to the finish,” said Garate. “For sure, Movistar will want to leave a break up front to take the bonus seconds and leave no chance for Rigo. Of course, we like the opposite. I want to keep the bonus at the finish line, which means I don’t want a breakaway to arrive at the line.

“It’s difficult to think we can take seconds on the road,” noted Garate. “There will be many attacks. We’ll need to keep our eyes open and be ready for anything. The bonus seconds at the finish are our best chance.” 

Team Movistar reports on 2018 Vuelta a Murcia:

Alejandro Valverde extended his brilliant start to the 2018 season on Saturday as he finished 2nd in his home race, the Vuelta Ciclista a la Región de Murcia, behind fellow countryman Luis León Sánchez (AST), following another exhibition on the attack which started on the slopes of the Collado Bermejo, more than 60km from the finish line.

The two local riders, joined by Jakob Fuglsang (AST), reached down a four-man lead group stemming from a monster break (40 riders) jumping away from the field in the beginning of the race, and including two of the Movistar Team: Imanol Erviti and Eduardo Sepúlveda. The trio bridged back to Jungels, Serry, Gilbert (QST) and Trentin (MTS), and after the descent of the Collado Bermejo, Valverde y Sánchez left the others behind with a duo attack which only Gilbert (3rd) attempted to bring down.

As winds picked up in the final descent towards the finish, Sánchez anticipated Valverde’s strong sprint with a well-timed attack with 2km from the finish. The Movistar Team leader would end up taking his fifth podium result in just nine racing days in 2018, while at the pursuit groups, José Joaquín Rojas took 9th place and Andrey Amador came close to another top-ten finish with his 12th spot.

Luis Leon Sanchez

Luis Leon Sanchez wins the Vuelta a Murcia

REACTION, Alejandro Valverde:
“The race did become really difficult for us in the beginning with such a big breakaway. We had Imanol and Eduardo into the escape, but there were some teams, like Quick Step or Bora, with a majority of their riders at the front, and also some extremely talented guys like Trentin. There were moments when I thought we would never make it back. However, huge work from both Astana and especially my team-mates made it possible for us to reach the lead group – hats off to the Blues, because otherwise it’d have been impossible.

“The two Astanas and me attacked at the Collado Bermejo, we got on well with each other quickly and were able to open a gap and get to the front. After the descent, ‘Luisle’ and I profited from a slight uphill to attack, and seeing that no one was able to follow us, we soon agreed it was better to go on taking turns until the end. ‘Luisle’ is doing really, really well at the moment, and even though I myself tried to leave him behind in the finale, he took a strong turn with 2km to go and it caught be out of strength. I’m still happy, though, because my legs continue to feel really well after my injury. Now it’s time to keep on working hard before my next race, the Abu Dhabi Tour.”

Daryl Impey takes his first South African Road Race title

Impey's Mitchelton-Scott team sent me this report:

33-year-old Daryl Impey has claimed his first ever victory in the South African Road Race Championships today to become a double national champion after winning his seventh time trial title on Wednesday.

The in-form Mitchelton-SCOTT rider has had an incredible start to the 2018 season after taking the overall victory at the Tour Down Under and has been able to carry his momentum into the championships to finally bring the South African jersey to the team despite being without teammates and out-numbered.

The split
A group of eight riders established the first breakaway of the day before Impey bridged across in a small group after 50kilometres of racing. A touch of wheels took down four Dimension-Data riders which left a reduced leading group and played to Impey's advantage.

Playing the game
With a strong representation from Dimension-Data, Impey knew it would be a challenge to come away with the victory but with many Under23 riders interesting in racing hard for the title, Impey was able to utilise this. Using his experience he was able to put himself in a perfect position with 25kilometres to go, to lead the race with two other riders, Jacques Jv Rensburg (Dimension-Data) and Jason Oosthuizen (Barzani Pro Cycling).

Two-time champion
Having dominated the time trial event over the years, becoming the first ever South African to win the title seven times, the road race was next on the list for Impey having placed second on two previous occasions (2014 & 2015). Finally with some luck on his side and incredible form, Impey was able to add the victory to his list.

Daryl Impey - 2018 South African road race and time trial champion:
“It feels so good to win, I have lost a few championships after some bad luck so it was about time luck was in my favour. It is a nice relief to finally get the jersey, you always have these races that you want to win and finally I can tick off this one.

“The race split quite easily, I put it in the gutter and we rode across to the leaders in a group of about 12 guys and there was six or seven Dimension-Data riders there. One guy touched my wheel and actually brought down four of them (Dimension-Data riders) and left just four of us to ride across.

“Once we got to the front group of eight, there were guys there interested in the Under23 title so they were riding and they obviously didn’t want Dimension-Data to come back. When I saw they were coming back at the end, around 60kilometres to go, I just put my head down and went and I was able to take a couple of guys with me and encouraged them to work.

“I knew once we were just three out front, from that Jason had had a good ride but was a bit spent and that Jacques isn’t really known for sprinting so I was fairly confident I could take the victory then.”

South African road race results:

1. Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-SCOTT)
2. Jacques Jv Rensburg (Dimension-Data)
3. Jason Oosthuizen (Barzani Pro Cycling)

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